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Hearing Set for SCO's Objections and PJ's DeMystifying PACER tour
Tuesday, September 19 2006 @ 05:30 AM EDT

Synchronize your watches, everyone. We have a hearing scheduled on SCO's Objections to Judge Brooke Wells' Order of June 28, 2006. Oral arguments will be heard on October 24, 2006 at 10:00 AM. So if you are in Salt Lake City area, that's the place to be. Here's the notation on Pacer's docket list:
771 Filed & Entered: 09/18/2006
Notice of Miscellaneous Hearing
Docket Text: NOTICE OF MISCELLANEOUS HEARING: (Notice generated by Kim Jones) Miscellaneous Hearing re: SCO's objections to Magistrate Judge order set for 10/24/2006 10:00 AM in Room 220. (kmj, )

There is also a signed order [PDF] releasing Boies Schiller's Scott Gant from having to represent SCO any longer.

I received an email from a reader asking if I'd explain what Pacer is and what a docket is. So let me take you on a demystifying tour of the PACER system.

Your Guided PACER Tour

PACER stands for Public Access to Court Electronic Records which gives the public access to Federal case information:
(PACER) is an electronic public access service that allows users to obtain case and docket information from Federal Appellate, District and Bankruptcy courts, and from the U.S. Party/Case Index.

If you wonder how the court system is set up and what a district is and what a circuit is, Groklaw's Legal Research page has a link to a very clear explanation. And here's a handy map. PACER is not free, except for rulings, but it's close, 8 cents a page. And if you spend less than $10 in a year, you owe nothing at all.

What is the US Party/Case Index?

And what's the U.S. Party/Case Index? First, here's how PACER explains the Index:

The U.S. Party/Case Index is a national locator index for PACER systems in the United States appellate, district and bankruptcy courts. Subsets of data are collected from each court and transferred to the PACER Service Center nightly. The U.S. Party/Case Index allows searches by party name or social security number in the bankruptcy index, party name or nature of suit in the civil index, defendant name in the criminal index, and party name in the appellate index. The information provided by the search will include the party name, the court where the case is filed, the case number and the filing date.

As the FAQ explains, "PACER is a service of the United States Judiciary. The PACER Service Center is operated by the Administrative Office of the United States Courts." So, as the courts are all going digital, you can now access most of the information filed in the federal courts all over the US, as it is all collected in PACER daily. There are still a few that are not yet on Pacer. For those, you have to contact the individual courts. You can obtain information from them instead, if you prefer. And sometimes you need to anyway:

To retrieve more information on a particular case found while searching the U.S. Party/Case Index, access the PACER system for the jurisdiction where the case resides. This is indicated by the court abbreviation provided with each hit on the U.S. Party/Case Index. For most hits on U.S. Party/Case Index, the Case Number will be a link to the case summary information at that court's PACER site. All you need to do is click the case number.

And there's a free phone number you can call for appellate info, although it's limited in what it provides:

Can I receive case information via the telephone? Some appellate and bankruptcy courts offer a limited amount of appellate or bankruptcy case information through the VCIS (Voice Case Information System) and AVIS (Appellate Voice Information System) applications. Both systems are free of charge and can be accessed through a touch-tone phone. Click the links above for a list of telephone numbers.

Obviously there can be privacy issues, so not everything is available on PACER, and aren't you glad? Note that you can lose your PACER privileges and here's how, from the FAQ :

Are there any limits to PACER usage?

Yes. Access privileges will be suspended for any account that causes an unacceptable level of congestion or a disruption to the operations of the PACER Service Center, a U.S. federal court, or another PACER customer. In addition, any attempt to collect data from PACER in a manner which avoids billing is strictly prohibited and may result in criminal prosecution or civil action. PACER privileges will be terminated if, in the judgment of judiciary personnel, they are being misused. Misuse includes, but is not limited to, using an automated process to repeatedly access those portions of the PACER application that do not assess a fee (i.e. calendar events report or case header information) for purposes of collecting case information.

So, you don't want to get creative. It would be tactful to access outside of the court's normal business hours, if you're sightseeing, because you don't want to interfere with their necessary work, say staying away from 6am-6pm local court time, if possible. They're not equipped like Google or Slashdot even to handle virtually unlimited traffic.

OK. So that's what the US Party/Case Index is. And that's your overview of what's available. Now, let's drill down a bit and do some searching.

Searching on PACER

After you log in, here's what you see:

Let's choose Civil, and if we do, we'll see a page that looks like this:

Once you reach the search page, on your left you have instructions that read like this:

Form Instructions

Enter your search criteria in the form to your right and click on search.

Select a particular state or region of the country to limit your search. The default is to search all courts.

Limit your search to a particular date range. To search one day, enter the same beginning and end date. To search forward, just enter a beginning date. To search backward, just enter an end date. The default is to search for cases without a date range.

Limit your search by selecting both a state or region and a date range. This may help reduce the number of search results.

Either a party name, case number, or a nature of suit code must be entered to perform a search. A combination of party name and nature of suit is allowed. Other combinations of these fields are not allowed.

Select to receive results with the case title or without case title. The default is to show results without a case title.

Results are displayed as extracted from the database to optimize search speeds. The complete search results should be reviewed when attempting to locate a case. The results may appear to be in alphabetical order, but may not be.

That makes it seem quite hard and complex, doesn't it? But in real life, you actually can just type in "SCO Group" in the block for Party Name, and you'll get everything you are looking for, without narrowing it down further. If you were searching for a Microsoft case, you probably would need to narrow it down to save time, because there have been so many cases. I'll show you how to do that fine tuning in a minute.

You can always eyeball the results, even if you can't figure out how to narrow the search, and note the codes. What's a code in this context?

Each state has a code, and your search results will always include them. If you are looking for a case you know happened in California, let's say, then there is no use looking in Alabama, so if you see the code for Alabama, almdce, next to a case name, you can just skip over it. California is bigger than Alabama and they have more federal courts, so if it's a California case, you need to know if it's in the state's Southern District Court (casdc), Northern (candce), Eastern (caedce), or Central (cacdce). I guess there is no Western, it being such a narrow state. So when you read about a case in a news article, look for that identifying information, so you can find it. You can see in the screenshot of your opening page that there is a link for court codes.

Maybe you're looking for all cases of a certain type. The PACER system calls that "Nature of Suit," and there's a link on your civil search page for that breakdown, called Detailed NOS listing. If it's a contract case, for example, you have a choice of type:

CONTRACT
110 Insurance
120 Marine
130 Miller Act
140 Negotiable Instrument
150 Recovery of Overpayment and Enforcement of Judgment
151 Medicare Act
152 Recovery of Defaulted Student Loans (Excl. Veterans)
153 Recovery of Overpayment of Veteran's Benefits
160 Stockholders Suits
195 Contract Product Liability
190 Other Contract
196 Franchise

If you were looking for all stockholder litigation, then, you'd use the NOS 160. Copyright cases, not desiring to give rms hives or anything, is categorized under "Property Rights":

PROPERTY RIGHTS
820 Copyrights
830 Patent
840 Trademark

As you can see, lawyers have no trouble distinguishing between the three types. So if you wanted to see all the lawsuits in the US that had to do with copyright claims, you'd search for NOS 820. And if you do that, without narrowing it at all, here's what will happen:

Too many results. So let's narrow it down to just copyright cases in the 10th Circuit, the one SCO is in, and this screenshot shows you what the search page looks like. Notice that I've picked 10th circuit from the Region drop down list:

That works better, and when we run that search, we get only 1300 or so cases:

But lots of the cases you get on that results page are kind of old, going back to 1988. That doesn't mean they don't matter, but maybe you are just interested in the cutting edge rulings in the last couple of years, because you are familiar with the older cases and you just want to know what happened since you last checked, so you narrow down some more, by date:

When you run that search, you get this:

Only 371 on that list, and it's on that list we find our beloved SCO Group, number 319 on the list, and notice the codes we were talking about earlier:

You won't find SCO's litigation against IBM on the list though, not even if you add a year to your search to go back to 2003. Why not? Because despite telling reporters and you and me that they had a mountain of evidence of copyright infringement, they filed their case under NOS 190, Contract, as you can see for yourself:

What's a Docket?

That last page lists all the lawyers on the case, by the way, although it's not as up to date as our own as they still have Gant on the list. If you scroll down, you will see the header, "DOCKET TEXT":

Every case filed is given a docket number. What's that? Here's the Free Dictionary's definition. It's like a ticket, kind of like when you stand in line at the deli or the fish market and they give you a number, so you know when it is your turn. There are so many cases, you couldn't keep track of things otherwise. It can't be "Charlie's dad's case." Too many Charlies and too many cases. So in SCO v. IBM, the docket number assigned was "CIVIL DOCKET FOR CASE #: 2:03-cv-00294" as you see at the top of the last page. You'll find that docket number on every document filed by either side in this litigation, so everyone knows where to file it and how find it later. If you ever call the court to ask them a question about a case, the first thing they are likely to ask you is the docket number, so they can look it up. There's a different system for looking up a case by its citation, but I'll save that for another article.

Note that the federal list for SCO v. IBM begins on March 25, 2003. But we know SCO sued IBM earlier than that, on March 6. But remember that it filed in state court first, and it got transferred over to federal. So that is the why of it. Here's the complaint filed in the Third Judicial District of Salt Lake County, Utah.

When you first get your results for SCO v. IBM in the federal case from Pacer, you are given the following choices:

Query

Alias
Associated Cases
Attorney
Case File Location...
Case Summary
Deadlines/Hearings...
Docket Report ...
Filers
History/Documents...
Party
Related Transactions...
Status

You can choose Docket Report, as we just did, or you can choose History/Documents, if what you particularly want are the documents and the court clerk's notes. Your choices if you choose that look like this:

If you check "display docket text, then your results look like this:

If all you want are the documents and no notes, no docket sheet, it looks like this:

You noticed, I'm sure, that one of your choices was "Deadlines/Hearings" and if you go there, you will see the next deadline is the hearing on October 24th that we just told you about:

We have these dates on Groklaw's IBM Timeline page too, but this is a good PACER page if you want to read it from the horse's mouth and you have an account. There is one other deadline before that, the Motion Filing Deadline for summary judgment motions, which is September 25. I am getting really excited to read what gets filed.

So, if you want to sign up for a PACER account, so you can start trying all this out, here's where you can go to do it. As you can see, you don't need to be a genius to work with the PACER system. I hope you do get an account, if you like following these cases. A lot of folks went to a lot of trouble to make this information available for you to enjoy. They even have a 56-page PACER manual [PDF], if you want the long version. But hopefully this mini-tour has given you enough to find your way around. Even if you don't wish to bother with trying it for yourself, at least when I write that the docket sheet says such and so, you'll all know now what I'm talking about.


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